A Kansas commission says state lawmakers should get a 50% pay raise
That would bump most lawmakers up to $43,000 a year. Supporters say the pay increase will help regular Kansans run for office without making a financial sacrifice.
A Kansas commission is recommending a nearly 50% increase to state lawmaker pay to provide them a fairer wage.
The bipartisan Legislative Compensation Committee on Thursday unanimously voted to recommend a proposal that calls for raising lawmaker pay from an average compensation of $29,000 to an annual salary of $43,000. Legislative leaders like the Senate president and the speaker of the House would earn more, up to $68,000.
The plan now heads to the full Legislature, where lawmakers will need to consider authorizing their own pay raise to go into effect in 2025.
Commission Chair Mark Hutton, a former Republican state lawmaker, said the commission’s proposal is meant to provide a fairer compensation that also increases the opportunity for regular Kansans to run for office.
“What we're trying to do here,” Hutton said, “is develop a compensation package that would not incentivize, but support people from our citizenry that wanted to serve in the Legislature and not punish them financially for doing it.”
Currently, lawmakers often have to juggle legislative work with another job, and that balancing act is sometimes cited as a reason they leave office.
The proposed salary is based on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data for average annual wages of Kansans. The plan also calls for annual adjustments to pay based on a three-year rolling average of the statewide wage increases reported by the bureau.
Currently, Kansas lawmakers are paid a $88.66 daily salary for the 90 days they serve during the legislative session. Lawmakers saw an annual increase to the daily rate between 1997 and 2009, but the daily rate has not changed since.
They also get $157 a day for food and housing in Topeka and a $7,000 stipend for the rest of the year when the Legislature is not in session. The commission chose to keep the $157 per diem in effect, but discontinue the $7,000 stipend.
The Legislature could reject the commission’s rate change during the first 30 days of the 2024 session and force the commission to try again. If the Legislature rejects a proposal a second time, the current compensation rate would remain in effect.
But at least one critic argued the pay increase was too high. In an email to the commission, an unnamed Kansas resident noted the plan increases lawmaker pay even though the state’s minimum wage hasn’t increased in years. They also asked to send the proposal to Kansas voters.
“The increase is far too much to consider at once,” the person wrote.
The Legislature created the commission during the 2023 session to review how much lawmakers make and possibly increase their pay after the 2024 election cycle.
The commission also provided a buffer from lawmakers directly boosting their own pay. Republican state Rep. Blake Carpenter, who proposed the creation of the commission, said in March that lawmakers have discussed a pay increase for years, but they have not taken any action out of fear of angering voters and jeopardizing their reelection chances.
Democratic Rep. Rui Xu said at the same time that he supported the plan to help lawmakers avoid taking on financial hardship to represent their neighbors in the statehouse.
Xu said he had to quit his full-time job when he was elected in 2018, and he effectively took a 70% pay cut to serve in the Kansas House. He said he takes part-time freelance work half of the year to make ends meet.
“It’s not easy and it’s not stable,” Xu said. “My wife and I are wondering what happens if those go away.”
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